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Franchisees under 30: Q&A with Debra Fielding, Stagecoach

Franchisees under 30: Q&A with Debra Fielding, Stagecoach

“Franchising is so much more than a business, it’s something you can put your heart and soul into,” says Debra

Debra Fielding, 26, Stagecoach

Launching Stagecoach Oxford Summertown in August, Debra was one of the performing arts business’ many students, before becoming a Stagecoach Early Stages and dance teacher after graduating from university. She was named Newcomer of the Year 2018 at the Stagecoach global conference.

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WF: When and why did you decide to invest in a franchise?
For me, it just so happened that I was in the right place at the right time. But I think it’s important to realise how beneficial franchising can be to someone who doesn’t necessarily have business acumen.

I have a few friends who run dance schools by themselves, which means exactly that - they’re by themselves. Investing in a franchise gives me an almost endless list of phone numbers I can ring to ask for help if I need it. The support from head office is tremendous and has helped me grow so quickly in the last year.

WF: Why did you choose to become a Stagecoach franchisee?
Growing up, I was involved with everything performing arts. From my GCSEs to A-Levels and then on to my degree, it was my life. I was also a student at Stagecoach Oxford and it was when I phoned the existing franchisee, Maya, asking for a job as a dance teacher that I started to learn more about the business side.

I taught full-time for three years before Maya retired and the school got split four ways - I took three of the seven Main Stage schools and launched Stagecoach Summertown. I guess it could be seen as luck, but I would say the mothership was calling me home.

WF: Did you have to overcome any business challenges because of your age?
In short, yes. Because the students in the Further Stage classes are only six years younger than I am, they didn’t see me as the principal, but we eventually reached a middle ground.

Some teachers also had some difficulty getting used to me being the principal. With a newbie stepping in after spending 27 years with Maya, it took some for us all, but we now have a great working relationship.

By far the most important aspect was gaining the trust of the parents. I completely understand they just wanted to check I was capable, and it was up to me to demonstrate that. 

WF: What’s the best thing about being a franchisee?
The best thing about being a franchisee is how rewarding it feels to provide my kids with the opportunities from Stagecoach. I spend the week in the office, preparing for classes at the weekend and I get excited when I have news to share with the students. I’m the creative mind behind everything that happens and that’s exactly what I wanted.

It’s also great to be in control of my own time. I’m quite flexible in the week, doing whatever I need to keep the business going, so the balance between my work and home life is perfect.

WF: What skills do you need to become a successful franchisee?
It’s important to be able to manage your own time and be strict with yourself. It can be very easy to wake up and think: “I could have a day off today” - trust me, I’ve done it - but it’s about realising that you get out as much as you put in.

At the other end of the scale, as a business owner, it can be hard to actually take time away. I’ve started writing ‘DAY OFF!’ in my diary so I know, and so does everyone else, that I won’t be available for work purposes. Motivation is key, but knowing when to switch off is also just as crucial.

WF: Best piece of advice for someone considering investing in a franchise?
Franchising is so much more than a business, it’s something you can put your heart and soul into. If you are passionate about something, whether it’s giving back to children, providing a service or you just want to build a rewarding business, everything else will simply fall into place. Franchising provides a great foundation that is accessible for everyone.

Stagecoach staff

Day in the life…

Debra has two types of working day: in the office and in the school.

She explains: “My office days consist of a lot of admin. I get into the office at 9am to make sure I have a nice, neat pile of my to-do tasks. I’m a slight neat freak, so everything has to be tidy before I can start any jobs.

“I clear my emails, responding to anything that needs urgent attention, flagging anything that can be dealt with later and deleting any junk. I usually have a lot of parent queries and they become my main priority.

“I then move on to creating the rehearsal schedule and making sure shows are running smoothly - I like to plan quite far in advance.

“I have things drop in throughout the day and I use the same process as the morning to filter through these. I finish up around 4pm and I go on to teach classes two nights a week for Stagecoach Abingdon. I don’t answer my phone after 6pm, answering anything that does come through the following day.”

Debra’s day in the school is entirely different.

“The madness begins at 2:30pm on a Friday and lasts for the whole weekend,” she says. “I run classes on Friday evenings, Saturday mornings and all day on Sundays during term time. A register is taken and the classes get underway.

On Sunday mornings, we have four classes running altogether and it can get a bit crazy at times. Ensuring every student is registered and ready to start is quite a challenge.

“In the afternoon, it becomes a lot more relaxed as it’s just one Main Stage school class. I’m able to interact with them a bit more, as well as start to tidy up. That finishes at 5:30pm and I’ve managed to perfect the end-of-day clear up, so we can all leave a bit quicker. I then have my evening to wind down.”

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